Submitted for Publication in the Anxiety section of the NYTimes:
Any similarities to actual Psychologists or known Insomniacs is purely coincidental
Subject: Anxiety, Insomnia and Me
Who could possibly be more neurotic then a Clinical Psychologist with a pre-existing condition of anxiety? What about an anxious Jewish Clinical Psychologist with chronic insomnia and ADHD? If there was such a thing as a board game called “Scrabble : The DSM-5 special addition”, that diagnostic concept alone would be worth a shit-ton of points, not to mention off-shoot words that mean “angst”. Dont get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with my therapy clients. They even help me feel better about myself and whatever might possibly be wrong with me by comparison. Can you spell “schadenfreude”, which literally means the enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others? That’s a pretty good scrabble word too. Of course it also helps that I’m pretty good at what I do. I’m also pretty sure nobody is all that surprised to hear that psychologists and psychotherapist can sit there cool, calm and collected all day long while doing their business and then once the work day is over revert into Woody Allen-like creatures who roam the night and their medicine cabinets seeking relief from their own panoply of problems including panic disorders, anxiety and insomnia.
Luckily, in my case I dont have acute anxiety or panic attacks. That would be too easy. Instead over the last few years I have gradually developed a problem with sleeping. I know what you armchair doctors are thinking. I tried it all. I did the “comprehensive” sleep study along with all the other overweight middle aged males shlepping to the outpatient facility/ faux hotel room with their favorite pillows. I’m really shocked that I couldn’t get much sleep that night with 57 different electrodes taped to my body and two stone faced sleep lab technicians staring at me through a glass window. Of course a world class neurotic person with generalized anxiety such as myself spent most of my “Sleepless in the Sleep Lab” time thinking about the guy on You Tube viral video who keeled over and died in the sleep lab… while technicians watched through the glass window. I guess they didn’t notice him sitting up, clutching his chest and falling off the bed.
Beyond the sleep lab testing I also have tried many of the tried and true methods for dealing with night time anxiety and insomnia. I kept a sleep diary, ie. Monday- no sleep, Tuesday-no sleep, Wednesday- delirious and possibly psychotic and no sleep, etc. I used relaxation tapes. I engaged in progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive therapy, ie. “I am a wonderful, tired human being and my left leg is getting heavy and going numb. Wait, do I have MS??” The basic problem with neurotic anxiety is that certain people think too much. While other people accept many things just as they are, I often keep questioning both out of habit as a therapist and from a constitutional predisposition toward morbid curiosity. But WHY am I aging more toward the top of my body and less toward the bottom? How is it possible to grow hair on my back and shoulders and ears but not on my head? These are just a few of the questions that preoccupy me while the rest of the world is sleeping soundly.
It’s not easy for a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology to finally bite the bullet and call his colleague the M.D. psychiatrist and fess up to having anxiety and less sleep then my 15 year old male client with ADD who took his Ritalin at midnite thinking it was Ibuprofen. This is where I first learned about the wonders of prescription sleeping pills. By the way, have you ever taken Ambien (Zolpidem), the popular sleeping pill and gotten a relatively decent nights sleep only to wake up to garlic bread crumbs, a stop watch, an empty carton of orange sherbet and one of your neighbors you never met before in your bed? Ok, I am exaggerating about the neighbor but the rest is the gods honest truth. The good news is that the magic little pill worked and worked fast. The bad news is that it may work too well for a while and then not enough after that..which sounds a little bit like heroin or cocaine. But I digress, let me explain more about this wonder drug.
Ambien (Zolpidem) is some good stuff for many of us who cant just do as Samuel L. Jackson eloquently puts it in his popular audio childrens book, “Go The Fuck To Sleep!” There are millions of reasons people cant fall asleep or stay asleep. As my friend the shrink explained it, the older you get the harder it seems to turn off the mental computer and go into “sleep mode”. I’m sure the 32 different electronic and digital devices in my room all simultaneously blinking and lighting up dont help either. Then there are the “bad sleep habits” including obsessional behavior, ie. “Wait, it’s 3:25 AM, I better check my Facebook status to see if anyone else liked my status update”or “hey, I wonder if anyone has linked to my web blog (otherwise known as my post-mortem memoirs) in the middle of the night unnoticed.” Bottomline, the more you think, the less you sleep, and the less you sleep, the more anxious and neurotic you get.
Anyway, back to insomnia and Ambien. If you are one of the 23 million people who take it now (thats right, we are all in some kind of bizarre post- Prozac nation sleeping pill cult) it can have some unusual side effects for certain zombified individuals. Instead of eating peoples brains some of us just sleepwalk, often to the kitchen where we collect and consume an assortment of foodstuff and odd utensils. One morning I found a Ginsu knife and a plastic ice cream scoop in my room that I had no memory of. Maybe the scooper went with the orange sherbet left melting on the floor. I cant say. The point is that weird things happen once the Ambien Undead arise. Some people like my 25 year old son Eli have more obvious so-called “paradoxical” side effects like the absolute refusal to sleep and instead have long protracted conversations with select items in the refrigerator, including the fresh produce. I’m not kidding or exaggerating this. It really happened. Also, Eli happens to be a personal trainer with huge muscles. Abruptly intervening in his intimate exchange with the carrots and broccoli was not easy. He didnt get belligerent or anything. He just didn’t want to be rudely interrupted or awakened from whatever weird trip he was on. Apparently I dont either when I am under the biochemical effects of Ambien. The only funny part about it is my initial reaction of great surprise to the seemingly random things strewn around the next morning. I now have a predictable pre-set exclamation that I say aloud for full dramatic effect, “Hey, how did THAT get there??” Of course when “that” involves a neighbor’s cat hanging from a ceiling fan or three empty bags of Doritos (the big ones) on the floor next to the bed it’s a little hard to deny who was responsible. Later finding the car in the driveway with the motor still running takes the whole thing up a notch/nacho. If this gets any worse I’m either going to have to call my shrink back or at the very least start checking the car trunk each morning for groceries.
P.S. Riiight, here’s what kept me up last nite writing this article. Is it more correct to say awoke, awaken, awoken, or ewok (out of frustration) in the fourth paragraph about Ambien? The online arguments on the subject are endless and wholly inconclusive. I gave up and said “wake up to”. Meanwhile, I then couldn’t go the fuck to sleep…..and wonder if this will ever get published…and if it does I wonder if that will be good, bad or indifferent for business…..Oy Vey.
Cliff Mazer Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and humorist who lives and works in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He has a thing for Pirates and other people with ADHD. He blogs fairly anonymously on Facebook and WordPress at https://captaincliff.wordpress.com/ Contact: 404-932-7193